It’s been another busy week in Oaxaca! I have lots to talk about from the past week, so I’ll just dive right in.
On Monday and Wednesday I have my anthropology and literature classes, which means that I have 4 days to prepare for my classes on Monday, but only 1 day to prepare for class on Wednesday. So, Tuesdays are not my favorite day. I really like the topic of my anthropology class- contemporary problems facing indigenous groups in Mexico- but our professor is a bit hard to follow. And so far I am really, really enjoying my literature class, taught by Giovanna (our professor from PLU). We’re going to be reading Testimonials (personal accounts of suffering) and analyzing their ability to create social change. Sometime soon I’ll post about some of the things I’ve learned!
Wednesday, after I was done with class, some of us met up to go to the Museo de Textiles de Oaxaca. The bottom floor is an extensive collection of textiles, accompanied by field notes by a woman who traveled around the various Pueblos of Oaxaca documenting all the different types of textile-making. It was fascinating to read her field notes (from the 1920’s and 30’s) about what the men and women were wearing and how they made each type of fabric. Here’s us at the museum, and one of the rooms!
After we left the museum, some of us went to a movie called “The Artist is Present” (In english- yay!) which was about a performance artist named Marina Abramovic, who performs pieces of art where she puts herself in extreme situations to send powerful messages. Some of her topics include power dynamics in relationships between men and women, body-shaming, exploitation, and much more. One of the best parts of Oaxaca is the amazing amount of cultural events there are on any given night– this theater was beautiful and old and the documentary was really great, all for 30 pesos, which is like $2.50.
On Thursday I didn’t have class, but woke up early to go with Kaja to volunteer at a public Secondaria (high school). We were each assigned an English teacher, and stayed with the teacher and helped with all of their classes of that day. There are 7 classes each day, each one 45 minutes long. Each of the classes had at least 40 students, and I found it nearly impossible to do anything productive with that many students in such a short amount of time. With every class I introduced myself in English, and had them ask me questions in English at first. The first class had 3rd years (14-15 years old) but the rest were 2nd years (12-13 years old). In the first class we spoke English the whole time, but in the rest I spoke Spanish with them (which was a fun way for me to practice, even though they laughed at me a couple times). Some parts of the day made me a little uncomfortable: Kaja and I were kind of ogled over because of our physical appearance, and I was asked at least 4 times if my blue eyes were “real.” I got quite a bit of unwanted attention from the boys of the school, and even from some male teachers, which I found really unprofessional. I was definitely the center of attention, and I felt like I didn’t deserve or want that attention just because of my physical appearance. But hopefully by next Thursday (we’ll be going every Thursday for the next 2 months) the shock value will have worn off and we can continue to connect with the students and help them in their English classes. My favorite part of the experience by far was getting to talk one on one with some of the students. One story in particular I’d like to share:
Juan is a 3rd year, who lives a few blocks away from the school. He speaks very good English, and when I first talked to him I asked him where he learned. He lived in Oklahoma for 7 years with his family, but him and his mom and his younger brother returned to Mexico a few years ago. I asked him why the three of them returned, and he told me they got scared when during George Bush’s presidency there was a law passed where if they had been caught, both of his parents would have not just been deported, but detained, and the kids would’ve had nowhere to go. His father and two brothers still live in the US. His father has 3 jobs, one brother has two, and the brother with the best job is working in the oil fields in Texas. From the funds they send to their family, Juan can go to school instead of having a job either in Mexico or the United States. His family used to be able to cross the border to return to Mexico every year and then go back to the US to continue working, but now crossing the border is too dangerous, and he hasn’t seen his father or brothers in over 4 years. Juan knows much more about immigration law in the United States than I do. He didn’t want to offend me by criticizing my home country, and he said that he thinks most people have good intentions but don’t understand what it’s like. His family doesn’t want to be split up. His father and brothers don’t want to work in the United States. They certainly aren’t getting welfare or good healthcare or any benefits from the US government (if they did need serious healthcare, they’d go back to Mexico where they can get almost free healthcare at public hospitals). They go to the United States to provide for their family. They go to the United States to survive.
That same night I went to another film showing in a public library about women’s rights in Mexico, specifically the criminalization of abortion. In some areas of Mexico, women can receive over 20 years in prison for having an abortion, which leads to a lot of unsafe practices and unnecessary fear that affect women, especially young women. I would get into specifics but don’t want to overwhelm my blog-readers with too much sadness for one post!
So, this week has been a bit tougher emotionally. In our literature class we’re talking about trauma, in my anthropology class we’re discussing the systematic destruction of indigenous cultures in Mexico during the 20th century, every day I struggle with my privilege in relation to the poverty and exploitation I see on a daily basis, I’m dealing with new gender dynamics that I’m not super comfortable with, I go to sad movies for fun, and all of it is in Spanish! I thought about not writing about these issues in this post, but then it wouldn’t be a true reflection of what I’m doing here in Mexico, and wouldn’t bring up things I think are very important to think about– it’s not all delicious food and fun experiences, but it’s all valuable and important.
On a bit of a happier note, this past Saturday we had an awesome excursion with an organization called Fundacion En Via (their website is here: http://www.envia.org/). The Foundation gives micro-loans to women to grow or start their own businesses, and also provides classes like computer literacy, business, English, health/ first aid, and many more to the women and their communities. We went on one of their tours, which anyone can go on, where we visited 4 different women and their businesses: 3 women made beautiful handmade weavings, one woman sold tupperware and Jafra cosmetics, one woman and her husband made handmade leather goods, one woman made tortillas, and another owned a small restaurant. The impact that En via had had on their lives was amazing: access to interest-free loans allowed the artisans to buy products in bulk and have more supply available so they could sell to people directly or merchants from Oaxaca city who gave them a much fairer price than vendors from neighboring markets, the woman who had a small restaurant could buy more tables and chairs and new kitchen supplies and now has many more customers, and the classes gave them all financial literacy and business skills that lets these women be financially independent– which raises up their community, allows their children to attend school, etc. So this tour was a great way to restore my faith in humanity– and I also bought some pretty great responsibly-sourced christmas presents :). Here’s us with one of the women weavers, and me making tortillas!
Two more highlights of the week: Making choco-flan on Sunday with my family (which you should all google image right now) and going to Zumba this morning, which were both super fun!
Well, I’m off to a documentary about Corn– unsustainable agriculture, genetically modified crops and their respective mega-corporations, high fructose corn syrup and its contribution to obesity….
And then I’ll eat my feelings with churros afterward. Hasta Luego!